Tough Conversations

Some parents find it difficult to talk with their children about drugs and alcohol. But it is important to teach them about these substances and about your expectations if they are offered drugs or alcohol.

A big part of talking is listening. For example, ask your kids what they know about vaping; do they think it is dangerous? Ask what they think can happen if someone smokes marijuana or takes heroin. Their attitudes are important because if they think a particular drug is dangerous, they may be less likely to use it; if they think a drug is harmless, they may be more likely to use it.

It is up to YOU to tell your children that tobacco, alcohol, and drugs have serious health and social effects. It is also important to start young.

Suggestions for Talking With: Preschoolers

Young kiddos ask lots of questions. Your response can let them know you can be trusted to provide honest answers. Do not worry that you will give your child ideas about taking drugs or possibly tempt them to experiment. They likely already know how important prescription medication is and may even remember you giving them some if they were ill. The early attitudes they form help them make healthy decisions later in life.

1. Young kids mimic adults, so use every chance you have to share your feelings about substance use. For example, you can tell your child tobacco is bad and can cause them to get very sick.

2. Teach on their level. Children this age will listen as you explain that things like paint or cleaning products have unsafe ingredients in them. Caution them to never take drugs unless you, a grandparent, or caregiver gives it to them.

3. Preschool kids have short attention spans, so giving short, honest answers is key. If you occasionally enjoy a beer on the weekend and four-year-old Tommy wants to taste it, try to interest him in something else by saying "No, this is only for adults. it can make children very sick. let me pour you some juice instead."

4. Teach them to make their own good choices. If they love a fictional character or famous athlete, encourage them to eat healthy foods to grow big and strong like their idol. Letting them make decisions, like what to wear, can also build confidence in their ability to do so.

Suggestions for Talking With: Elementary School Students

Children this age tend to be more anxious. You can talk to them about the consequences of using substances, such as how it can lead to the chronic illness of substance use disorder. You can continue to teach and encourage good choices around healthy living.

1. Explain about good drugs vs. bad drugs. Be sure they understand that even good medicine can make you sick or harm you if it wasn't prescribed to you or if you take it for the wrong reason.

2. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Remind those youngsters that some drugs can cause severe brain damage or other bodily harm, and even small amounts of alcohol can make children sick and repeat it often.

3. Children crave praise, so give it out like Halloween candy! For example, let them know they are super smart for disliking the smell of cigarettes and that you trust their ability to make good choices.

4. Involve others in your efforts. As your child enters elementary school, offer to help with a school activity or drug education event that has an anti-drug or "no tolerance" message such as during Red Ribbon Week.

5. Take the lead. Your child may not always start the conversations about drugs and alcohol with you; but you can begin the discussion using real-life events in the news or in your own lives.

Suggestions for Talking With: Middle School Students

Starting middle school is a big step in your child's life. If you began talking with your pre-teen about drugs and alcohol they will already know how you feel and have the information they need to make good decisions. If you did not start earlier, this is a good time to begin the conversation as your child may already be experiencing stressors that can lead to substance use.

1. Encourage them to share their dreams. Being actively involved in your child's life and helping them to nurture their interest in a positive way can help them stay on track to making healthy choices.

2. Boost of self-confidence. At this age, pre-teens, especially girls, start to care more about how they look and fitting in. Find healthy ways to help boost their confidence and manage stress, but remind them how activities like smoking cause bad breath, stinky hair, and yellow teeth.

3. Know your child's friends. If you drive them somewhere, you can listen in to current issues and trends, as well as learn how your child interacts with others. If your child seems to struggle socially try to determine why that might be. Getting to know your child's friend's parents too and share with them your desire to raise your child in a drug-free atmosphere.

4. Call on me. Tell your children often that you will come get them any time if they need to leave a place where alcohol or drugs are being use with the promise they won't get into trouble for calling you. If you can't be available, find a responsible adult willing to go in your place.

5. Teacher time. You might have to assume the role of a teacher. For example, your kids might think it is okay if they only drink but stay away from drugs. This is the opportunity to discuss with them the risk of using all kinds of substances, including alcohol. It is also wise to show them how to find credible information on websites like and

Suggestions for Talking With: High School Students

By this age, most youth have had the opportunity to try alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs, even if they didn't use them. They may even know young people with a substance use disorder. While you can't choose their friends, you can help create opportunities for healthy choices around friends and activities that do not involve drinking, smoking/vaping, or drugs.

1. See into the future. As they think about their future, remind them that substance use can shatter their dreams. It can negatively affect their chances of getting into college, joining the military, or being hired for a job.

2. Know your stuff. Your children may try to lure you into a debate about marijuana for medical use or other reasons. Make sure you know the truth about these substances and help your child understand that marijuana use in any form is illegal for youth, has harmful effects on the developing teen brain.

3. Appropriate Limits. have them help you set limits such as curfews. Also, ask them what consequences they think are fair for breaking any rules and consistently follow through if rules are broken.

4. Show them you care. Tell your children often that you care about hem and they are important to you. As parents we often take for granted that they know this. Show them you mean it by regularly spending one-on-one time with them. A strong bond will make your child more likely to come to you with questions or concerns about alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.

5. Stand your ground. Sometimes teens beg parents to let them drink at home, saying it is safer. Do NOT let them, and do not let your child host a party in your home where alcohol is served. Doing so would show that you approve of underage drinking. You could also be held responsible for anything that happens to minors who drink in your home, even after they leave.

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